Police: Copper seeker burned by wire

August 1, 2008 7:23:15 PM PDT
A man who climbed to the top of a utility pole Friday in an effort to steal copper was jolted by a high-voltage wire and burned over 50 percent of his body, officials said. It took rescue workers more than an hour to free the badly injured man and take him down a fire truck's extended ladder. Live TV coverage showed 51-year-old James Buster McKay's shirt in tatters, his jeans mostly burned away from his body. His skin looked red, and he appeared to be in extreme pain.

"The suspect was on the transformer and grabbed one of the live wires," said Dallas Police Senior Cpl. Gerry Monreal, who noted that authorities arrived to find several wires cut and on the ground.

The pole carried about 7,000 volts, Oncor Electric Delivery spokeswoman Carol Peters said.

Power was turned off to the pole during the rescue and was later restored to the neighborhood, Peters said. A standard utility pole is about 40 feet high, she said.

McKay was taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas with third-degree burns on about half of his body, said Dallas Fire-Rescue spokeswoman Sherrie Lopez. He was in critical condition, said hospital spokeswoman Charise Thomason.

McKay apparently was trying to steal copper wire, Police Sgt. Richard Santiesteban said. He is under arrest on a felony charge of criminal mischief, Monreal said. The count carries a term of two to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Copper thefts have increased across the nation as the salvage price for the metal has gone up sharply in recent years. Thieves typically target power cable, pipes, gutters and salvage yards.